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Excerpt from Megan Abbott’s ‘You Will Know Me’

"You Will Know Me" by Megan Abbott. Credit: Little, Brown

Chapter One

If she ever had to talk about it, which she never would, Katie would have to go back, back years before it happened. Before Coach T. and Hailey and Ryan Beck. Back before Devon was born, when there were only two Knoxes, neither of whom knew a tuck from a salto or what you called that glossy egg-shaped platform in the center of the room, the vault that would change their lives.

And Katie would tell it in three parts.

The Foot.

The Fall.

The Pit.

You could only begin to understand what happened, and why, if you understood these three things.

And Devon’s talent. Because that had been there from the beginning, maybe even before the beginning.

In proud-parent moments, of which there were too many to count, she and Eric would talk about feeling Devon in the womb, her body arching and minnowing and promising itself to them both.

Soon, it turned to kicking. Kicking with such vigor that, one night, Katie woke to a popping sound and, breathless, keeled over in pain. Eric stared helplessly as her stomach seemed to spasm with alien horrors.

What was inside her? they wondered, her rib poking over her sternum, dislocated while she slept.

It was no alien, but it was something extraordinary.

It was Devon, a marvel, a girl wonder, a prodigy, a star. Devon, kicking her way out. Out, out, out.

And they had made her.

And, in some ways, she had made them.

For years, Katie would touch the spot the rib had poked, as if she could still feel the tender lump. It was reassuring somehow. It reminded her that it had always been there, that force in Devon, that fire.

Like that line in that poem, the one she’d read in school, a lifetime ago. Back when life felt so cramped and small, when she never thought anything so grand could ever happen.

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower.

“She’s been doing it since she was three? How is that even possible?” That’s what other people, never gym people, always said. Making private judgments, unspoken charges of helicopter parenting, unmet maternal, or paternal, ambitions, Olympic dreams. No one ever believed that Katie and Eric never cared about sports, or even competition. Eric had played high-school baseball, indifferently. Katie had never been athletic at all, devoting her adolescence to art class and boys and sneaking off to see bands, the vestige of which was the Fight Like a Grrrl tattoo snaking around her left thigh.

“My three-year-old just wanted to play,” they’d say smugly. “We just let her play.”

As if it had ever been a choice, or a decision.

“It started as play,” Eric always told people. “It started with the trampoline.”

Then he’d tell them how, one long Sunday, he’d installed it in the yard, leaning over the auger rented from the hardware store, a pile of chicken wire, empty beer bottles at his feet.

The trampoline was the better story, an easier one, but it wasn’t the truth.

Because the trampoline came after the accident, came after the Foot. And the accident was how it truly began. How that force found its fuse.

Three-year-old Devon, barefoot, running across the lawn to Daddy.

Her foot sliding on a grass mound, she stumbled into the rust-eaten lawn mower Eric had left idling, her foot so tiny it slipped behind the blade guard, the steel shearing off two toes and a squeak of soft foot flesh.

A few feet away, face white with panic, Eric slid to his knees be-side her and somehow managed to pluck both toes from the grass.

Packed in ice, they looked like pink peas and Katie held them in her hands as Eric drove with careering ferocity the six miles to the hospital where doctors tried (but failed) to reattach them, like stringing beads, Devon’s face blue and wet.

“It could have been worse,” their pediatrician, Dr. Yossarian, told them later. “With the riding mowers, sometimes the whole foot pops off.” And he made an appalling pucker sound with his mouth.

“But what can we do?” Eric asked, even as Dr. Yossarian assured them Devon would be fine. “There must be something.”

So Dr. Yossarian suggested kiddie soccer, or ice-skating, or tumbling.

“It’ll help with balance,” he said.

In years to come, this would feel like a moment of shimmering predestiny, in the same way everything about Devon’s life eventually came to feel mythic within the family. Fate, destiny, retroactivated by a Sears Craftsman.

That fall, Katie drove Devon to the Tumbleangels Gym on Old Taylor Road and signed them both up for Mommy & Me Movers & Shakers.

“At first, she’ll be overly cautious,” Dr. Yossarian warned, “but try to push her.”

Except it was just the opposite. Within a few weeks, Devon was forward- and backward-rolling. Next came chin-ups, handstands, cartwheels as accomplished as those of girls twice her age.

The Human Rubber Band, Katie called her.

Supergirl, Eric called her. Monkey-bar superstar!

And, in some mysterious way, it was as if the foot were helping her.

Frankenfoot, Katie dubbed it. Making it their private joke.

Show Mommy how you work that Frankenfoot.

By the end of her first month, Devon had graduated to Tiny Tumblerz, and within a year, Devon was the gym’s VIP, her cubbyhole sprayed silver and festooned with sticker stars.

Watching her on the practice beam, Katie would think, This piece of wood is four inches wide, two feet in the air. Four inches. And I’m going to let my daughter plant her dimpled feet on that and do kicks and dips?

“Do the O,” the other girls would say, cheering as Devon arched her back from a handstand until her tiny bottom touched the top of her head. Every now and then, Eric would lift her up in the air to see if her backbone was really there.

Prodigy, Katie whispered in her most private thoughts but never said aloud. Eric said it. He said it a lot.

And so Eric installed the trampoline.

Hours, days devoted to making the yard ready for her talent, laying thick mats like dominoes. Just as he would eventually do in the basement, hanging a pull-up bar, scraping the concrete bumps off the floor, covering it with panel mats and carpet remnants, wrapping foam around the ceiling posts. For Devon.

And so gymnastics became the center, the mighty spine of everything for them.

Devon turning five, six, seven, thousands of hours driving to and from the gym, to and from the meets, a half a dozen emergency-room visits for the broken toe, knee sprain, elbow popping on the mat, seven stitches after Devon fell from the bars and bit through her tongue.

And the money. Gym tuition, meet fees, equipment, travel, booster fees. She and Eric had stopped counting, gradually becoming used to swelling credit-card debt.

Then, when Drew came along, their delicate, thoughtful son, nothing changed. Quiet, easy, he fit so perfectly — in temperament, in disposition — with everything that was already happening. Devon was happening.

After one meet, Devon medaling in three of four events, in the car on the way home, their fingers stiff from cold, Eric asked Devon, age nine, how it was, how it felt.

“I beat everybody,” she said, solemnly. “I was better than everybody.”

Her eyelashes blinking slowly, like she was surprised.

And Katie and Eric had laughed and laughed, even though Katie felt sorry, always did, for all those other girls who just weren’t as good, didn’t have that magical something that made Devon Devon.

“You gotta get her out of there,” a competition judge confided to Eric the following day. “Ditch that strip-mall gym. Get her to BelStars. Get her to Coach T.

“You keep her here, it’ll all go to waste.”

And that very night Eric began researching second mortgages.

It was, Katie had to admit, exciting.

Excerpted from “You Will Know Me” by Megan Abbott. Copyright © 2016 by Megan Abbott. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company.


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